Make Like Awkwafina and Turn Your Anxiety Into Something Bold and Brave

Photo: Getty Images/Rich Polk
I've been on the same page with Awkwafina for a while. Long before she revealed that we share the same anxiety coping mechanism. We've never met, but when she was a fledging feminist rapper and I was a fledgling feminist magazine editorial intern, we were in the same place one time in 2013. I was grumpily giving out gift bags at an event, and she graced us with a dope track about her vagina. A flawless performance didn't reveal any nervousness she says she felt at the time, but the crowd's positive reaction quelled her anxiety. "I'd never gotten a reception like that before," she said in an interview the next day with Character Media. "They were literally laughing at every single line. What I like is making people laugh."

Awkwafina recently sat down for Hi Anxiety, a new YouTube series from Hearts and Minds, and shared how she handled—and still really handles—all those anxious feelings.

"The way that I dealt with anxiety or losing my mom was not holding that sadness in, which I think was my instinctual response," she says. "Letting it out was really helpful, like actually talking to people about it. And I actually did develop humor, I think as some sort of defense mechanism. It made me appreciate like, making people feel joy." LOL am I being punked? This is me.

I've used an almost bombastic sense of humor to overcome social anxiety, to allow myself to think I'm contributing, to give myself a flavor that isn't just "incredibly bitter and fantastically dysthymic." Sometimes that flavor merges with the humor, but you get the point. Awkwafina is spot on when she talks about how laughter—the kind we provide and the kind we share—is a scientifically proven to help curb stress and anxiety. Research from the Mayo Clinic supports that laughter increases your endorphins, fires up and cools down your stress response for a feeling of relaxation, and soothes tensions both physical and social.

Awkwafina laughs about the time that her water bra (oh, you remember the one) punctured at a party. With so many people involved in troubleshooting the situation, the naturally "nervous" queen shared another pro-tip on how to tackle a stressful set of circumstances.

"I think if something embarrassing or something humiliating happens to you, and then you have to then face it, it's better to always breathe, like take a minute first," she says, giggling at the memory.

"I actually did develop humor, I think as some sort of defense mechanism. It made me appreciate like, making people feel joy." —Awkwafina

It has been genuinely rewarding to see Awkwafina stripped down after I've enjoyed so much of her over-the-top entertainment persona. Maintaining an image can relieve anxiety, sure, but in my experience it's exhausting if you feel like you have to be on 24/7. My guess is that she's now finding balance and allowing breathing room to just be herself. In a recent interview with Time Out, she explains that at home she's Nora Lum (her given name); Awkwafina allows her to channel nervous and insecure energy into something bold and brave.

"You want to appear strong, you want to set a good example about loving yourself," she says. "But the truth is, sometimes, you don’t. Sometimes you question everything, and that’s very real as well."

Got the giggles? Here's why laughter is so contagious. But if it's um, totally not the right moment to start chuckling (funerals et al), this is how you can stop the nervous lols.

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